[DREAM Essay] “What Do You Like About Being White? What Do You Like About Being Black?”

We are pleased to partner with WFYI to present a series of powerful essays on Spirit & Place Festival’s 20th anniversary theme, DREAM.

By Cindy Booth, executive director of Child Advocates

Cindy Booth, executvie director, Child AdvocatesQuestions that one does not often hear, and that I had to answer during my first “Undoing Racism” workshop.  As the executive director at Child Advocates, the CASA or court appointed special advocate agency representing 5000 children who have been abused and/or neglected, I believe that every child’s story should be told.   When I realized the percentage of children of color in the child welfare system in Indianapolis was nearly twice the percentage the children represented in our general population, I knew race and racism were important topics for Child Advocates and for our child welfare system.  If I say Child Advocates is the voice of those children, I and other leaders at Child Advocates had to do what we could to review and address disproportionality of the children for whom we advocate.

But,  the challenge was – how to talk about race?  Some of us have been raised to be “color blind.”  Many of us believe we are good people, living in a fair society.  How do we bridge the gap between those who face racism every day and those who do not?

“On a very simple and practical job of mothering, she, as an African American mother had to instruct her son on an appropriate way to respond during traffic stops, something that I had never had to do with my sons.”

We soon encountered the reputation and work of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans and their Undoing Racism workshops that explored race and racism in the institutions and systems that affect our children and families.  In 2010, we brought the first Undoing Racism workshop to the Indianapolis child welfare system.

My first workshop “A-Ha” moment happened when a Family Case Manager who was African American told the group that she talked about race in her cases every day.  She then said she talked about race every night with her children, including her teenage son.  I remember thinking, “Well, I don’t… Because I don’t have to.”   On a very simple and practical job of mothering, she, as an African American mother had to instruct her son on an appropriate way to respond during traffic stops, something that I had never had to do with my sons.  It underscored privilege to me.

On a deeper level, the workshop gave me a definition of racism that separated out individual acts of meanness and bigotry to focus on systemic, institutional effects of racism.  Such institutionalized racism is almost reflexive in nature.  So, as Joyce James says, “Before going to a house in a certain zip code, white and black case managers put a car seat in the car because they assume they will need to remove a child.”  When we analyze who has power in communities, who is a gatekeeper, how do we serve people, all of the answers lead to race and poverty.   So, if we work in social services, do we ever ask ourselves, “Why are people poor?”  And, do we respond with personal judgements or respond with a focused lens that includes a review of institutions and socialization of our attitudes on race?

When I answered the question “what do I like about being white?” by saying “I like the benefit of the doubt,”  I named  the privilege that was given to me because I am white.

When we at Child Advocates agree to “Undo Racism” with a common definition of racism and a shared language to safely discuss issues of race and racism, then we can accurately tell every child’s story.

 

Spirit & Place Festival salutes organizations like Child Advocates who dream for a society where we can safely discuss issues on race and racism.

To listen to this essay click here!

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One thought on “[DREAM Essay] “What Do You Like About Being White? What Do You Like About Being Black?”

  1. I truly enjoyed reading this piece and I applaud the contributor for addressing the importance of race in Child Advocacy without coming across as yet another ‘well intentioned’ person airing their white guilt. I will say however, I would love to see the narrative expanded when discussing ‘the conversations families of color are having that white families are not.’ Far too often, we are led to believe that the ONLY conversation being had deals exclusively with law enforcement and criminal behavior. When we only focus on this conversation, America is led to believe that the primary aim and objective of families of color (and Black families in particular) is to eliminate or minimize interaction with authority and law enforcement. This assumes that all of Black America exists in one social station and class in this country–the impoverished class. While the statistics bear out the disproportionality of poverty in communities of color, we seem to forget other statistics of note that directly and indirectly contribute to the likelihood and cyclical nature of disadvantage, poverty and negative encounters with law enforcement.
    The other conversation being had in families of color within and across social strata is how racism, prejudice and implicit bias plays a role in interactions in social and professional settings–settings that ultimately determine the success of individuals of color to advance in education, employment, equity acquisition and pay. Personally, more than the law enforcement conversation, my siblings and I were indoctrinated to believe that (according to my father) “you have to work twice as hard as your white friends just to be seen as equal to them.” Sadly, he’s right. The conversation in Black America deals so poignantly with comparative disadvantage regardless of education, income, physical stature, and profession. This reframing and uncovering of the full conversation presents the experience of being Black in America as one of the most arduous and challenging uphill battle for opportunity and equality. Statistics continue to show that African-Americans and Latinos consistently make less money than their white peers across every profession, education level and tax strata. To the point of this submission, preparing for and working with children in the system must come with an understanding of how race plays an integral role for those who are prepped and trained for encounters with law enforcement as well as encounters with institutional racism and inequality in institutions of secondary and post secondary education, social interactions within and between peer groups, as well as racism in professional environments.

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